Eva watched as Zoe left with the body of Simon. Somehow, Eva was hoping that she wasn’t about to return the body to the hospital. Its condition was far from pristine. Seeing it would probably cause a lot of grief if he had anyone that cared about him.
Perhaps returning his ashes would be the best course of action.
Brushing his hands together to get rid of chalk dust, Devon stood from the circle. “Everything is drawn correctly,” he said. “Seems a sick kid won’t do. At least, not one that sick.” With a casual shrug, he went to collect his little notebook and promptly started writing something down. “Still, might be able to improve the efficiency despite that failure.”
“What about me?”
Devon paused his writing to look up over the edge of his notebook.
A fairly lethargic-looking carnivean leaned against a chair, eyes half-lidded. Whatever this new process was, it sure took its toll on the demon. Arachne never looked half as bad after Eva’s treatments. The carnivean–Qrycx, she had called herself–looked more like Eva tended to feel.
Though Eva’s analogue in this ritual had died, so at least nothing quite that bad had happened to her.
“Ah, you,” Devon said. He waved his hand off towards the summoning circle. “Begone with you. I’ll call upon you after I find a new subject.”
“And our contract?”
From the chair that Eva was sitting in, she could see a shadow of a smile cross Devon’s features.
“Still on, of course.” That shadow darkened ever so slightly. “Of course, the terms dictate two years donation towards a single subject, so we’ll have to start the timer back at zero when next I summon you.”
In spite of her obvious fatigue, the carnivean’s eyes narrowed to thin slits. “That wasn’t in our contract.”
“Oh, but it was.” Devon pulled out a sheet of paper from the back of his notebook. “Reviewed and signed by you, it clearly states that you will donate yourself to the subject for a period lasting no less and no longer than two years.”
He turned the paper around, holding it out for her to see. “Now, that subject is dead and can no longer be donated to. Either our contract is null and void as the subject is deceased, or I find a new subject to take his place and your two years start over.
“By all means, you are free to walk away. Back to square one. Good luck finding someone willing to summon the unseelie queen.”
Eva quirked an eyebrow at that. This was the first she had heard of such a plan.
“Or accept a delay of a few weeks. I have no intention of letting this project linger. Not with the current and future state of Hell, demons, and Void in such flux.”
Brokering no room for argument, Devon pointed at the summoning circle. “Now out. Or I will banish you myself.”
When she hesitated, looking much like she was going to argue, Devon started chanting.
Originally, Eva hadn’t thought that Devon had much special about him. Well, that wasn’t true.
Originally, Eva had thought the world of Devon. He was a great magic caster. A brewer of potions that could cure all sorts of maladies. A fighter capable of ending all of his foes. One that bent demons at their knees to do his bidding.
She had begged and pleaded with him to teach her magic. He had finally relented, teaching her enough to keep her from blowing herself up and graciously allowing access to his library of tomes.
That was the mage that a young and impressionable girl had called master.
Now, however, she had more influences in her life. Teachers and fighters. Zoe, Genoa, Wayne, and a good portion of the professors at Brakket Academy. Compared to them, Devon was… lackluster. Eva was fairly certain that most of his ‘skills’ in fighting actually amounted to luck. Luck and hiding behind whatever demons were available.
While he had to have at least a little skill to back up that luck, his teaching skills were nonexistent. Looking back, Eva could clearly see that he hadn’t taught her much of anything unless it was directly related to her not killing herself. More likely was that she had annoyed him to the point where he had just tossed his books at her until she went away.
It worked. Eva had been more than happy to study a good portion of his tomes. And she couldn’t complain that the first book he had tossed at her was a blood magic book–she liked the art, after all. But a small part of her couldn’t help but wonder just how much more she could be, had she had an actual teacher.
Since arriving at Brakket, Eva had been dropping the title of master when addressing him. He was merely Devon.
But if there was one thing that he was a master at, it was diablery. Or demonology, as he would insist.
The words to his chant came out fast. The nun that had tried to banish Arachne just before starting school sounded like a child in comparison. Devon slurred and used contractions so much that the chant was only intelligible because Eva had heard most of it before.
Yet it worked.
The carnivean strode across the room. She didn’t move slow despite the lethargy. And yet she only made it about six steps. Her seventh step fell through a portal on the floor. Without solid ground beneath her, she tipped forward and fell face first into the void.
As the portal sealed up behind the carnivean, Eva frowned at her master. “I heard the story from Zoe and Arachne. Why didn’t you banish her back when you guys were rescuing Nel?”
He let out an irritated snort. “At first it was just talking. Implied it wasn’t going to attack us. Might have let my guard down, but just goes to show that you can’t trust demons. By the time it started attacking, it was far too close. Had its tentacles on me quick.”
“Won’t dismissing her make dealing with her next time all the more troublesome?”
Shrugging, he said, “I still don’t know that it is the best choice. Plenty of other demons in Hell. It was just one that I thought I could get to agree without much fuss.”
“But your contract–”
“Has plenty of loopholes. It caught a handful while going over the contract, but it didn’t catch all of them.” He paused, glancing at the mess on the floor left over from the ritual. “Hand me that broom.”
Eva blinked, momentarily stunned. She quickly complied before he decided to make her do it.
After a moment of watching the enchanted broom vanish the mess on the floor, Eva decided to press her luck by speaking up again.
“So Qrycx just happened to miss several loopholes? Doesn’t seem very demon-like.”
Sighing, Devon scratched at his beard. “Look, you want to avoid such a fate? Take a few law classes. Most demon contracts go something like this: Kill the things I want you to kill, don’t kill the things I don’t want you to kill, don’t kill me, go to Hell when you’re done. They don’t have a lot of experience in more wordy contracts.
“Now the fae,” he said, “I wouldn’t want to even hear a fae contract without a good dozen lawyers at my back.”
Eva frowned, wondering just how many lawyers went over the contracts for the diablery class. Knowing what little she did about Martina Turner, probably none.
“But,” Eva said, “you’re still going to summon the queen for Qrycx.”
“Loopholes. Assuming I even summon it again.”
With that, they fell silent. Eva let him finish cleaning the floor in peace while she considered what he had said.
Just as he was finishing up, Eva went and opened her mouth again. “What about me?”
He blinked, glancing back over his shoulder. “You? What about you?”
“‘Demons are not trustworthy,'” she said, complete with air quotes. “What about me?”
He burst out in a short guffaw. “You’re just a kid. And not a real demon, at least not yet. Even after your treatment is complete, its doubtful that anyone who knows you would consider you a threat. Now, after a century or two of time to distance yourself from the woes of us short-lived mere mortals, it will be another story. I don’t plan on sticking around quite that long.”
Nodding with a slight frown, Eva tried to decide whether or not to be offended. Trustworthy wasn’t bad, not from her perspective at least. Undemonlike might be bad. Her treatment wasn’t complete, so she supposed she could let that one slide for now. Not a threat?
Yes, that was definitely offensive.
And he had called her a kid. Compared to him, maybe, but fifteen years old was hardly a child.
Then, Eva’s mind caught up with his final sentence.
“You aren’t going to perform the treatment on yourself?”
A long moment of silence reigned supreme as Devon stilled.
“Arachne,” he eventually said, “was once human. As you well know. Some mages masquerading as gods didn’t like her and turned Arachne into what it is now. Myths say that Hel, mother of our very own Ylva, was cast down to Hell by Odin after being touched by Death. More mages masquerading as gods.
“There are other, similar tales through history and mythology. Humans turned to demons, or other monsters, by ones more powerful than themselves. Know one thing they all have in common?”
Eva considered for a moment. Not having a wide background in various myths and legends, she really only had the two examples. Not enough to come up with a commonality.
So Eva just shook her head.
Devon put on a rueful smile. “Perhaps I’ll tell you one day. I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with the endings of the stories.”
The smile behind his goatee twisted back into his usual expression of impassiveness and grumbling. “Now get out. I still have work to do.”
Eva nodded. Hopping to her feet, she started off towards the exit of his cell block. She stopped almost as soon as she started as two things came to mind.
The first was that she had forgotten to ask about the Powers. Probably a dead-end, as Ylva said, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
Eva stared down at the half erased ritual circle where the remains of Simon had lain not so long ago.
She bit her lip and asked a question she had never considered before.
“Was I the first?”
“First what? Demon-that-was-originally-human? Weren’t you listening, girl? Arachne and Hel are two–”
“The first of your experiments. I’m obviously your only current success. But was I the first you attempted the treatment on?”
He regarded her with a suspicion-filled raised eyebrow. “What? Growing a conscience now?” He gave a cold laugh. “More than that kid have died in the course of my research–if he wasn’t dead before the ritual even began, that is. Anyone with zero failures on a project as big and as unique as mine must be a literal god. ‘Course you’re not the first.”
Eva nodded. That was roughly what she had expected. Though, at no point when he had originally explained the process to her had he ever mentioned any dangers. “Perhaps in the future,” she said slowly, “you might warn your potential subjects that they might not make it.”
Looking at her like she was crazy, Devon just shook his head. “Most subjects weren’t exactly in the state to give consent. Not to the point of that kid,” he gestured towards the door, “but a lot less well off than yourself.”
Frowning, he pulled out his notebook again and started writing. “Ill individuals may not make for the best subjects,” he mumbled to himself. “Subject should display moderate drive and willpower, the will to live, and generally be in a healthy state.” Shutting his notebook, he glanced up and met Eva’s eyes.
A moment passed before he pulled out his notebook again. “Correction: willpower not needed. Subject should be slightly more self-aware than a pineapple.”
Eva lifted her teacup, taking in a deep breath of the fragrant fumes.
Devon hadn’t had any useful information on Powers. At least not the one that they were looking for. Just as Ylva expected. The closest he had come was correctly identifying the residue that Nel had received as belonging to another plane of existence, a foreigner to the mortal realm. Finding out what specific plane was beyond his abilities.
So nothing they hadn’t already known.
With that in mind, Eva wasn’t entirely certain what Carlos was going to be able to discover. Did he know anything about the Powers? Doubtful.
But Eva had sent the letter before finding out the origins of the creature. By the time she had found out, he would have already been on his way. Unless he had someone like Zoe teleporting him in.
In fact, he was due to arrive any minute.
Hence Eva’s cup of tea. A nice cup of tea for calming the nerves.
Carlos probably wouldn’t be upset at being called out to something he didn’t already know what it was. Given his reaction to the gargoyles within Ylva’s domain, he would probably be ecstatic at the chance to research something new.
No. Her initial reason for calling him here did not worry Eva.
It was just that the last time she had seen him, Genoa had a hole the size of her arm in her chest. And Genoa had fairly muscular arms.
Would he hate her? Blame her? Regard her with cold eyes behind those coke-bottle glasses of his?
She had read his letter. What he said about his concerns regarding his wife, Eva, and Arachne. But letters could be pondered over. Words could be erased and rewritten. What he actually felt might never have made it to Eva.
There was a reason she had written him a letter in the first place instead of just calling him, and it wasn’t that she still didn’t own a cellphone. Though that may have been a contributing factor.
After all, she wanted the time to consider her words. To avoid any questions or words that he might say to her that she would have to respond to at that moment.
Eva replaced her teacup in its saucer, shaky hands barely able to keep the tea from spilling over before the ceramic clacked together.
The tea was definitely not doing its job at calming her nerves.
She didn’t have tea often. Hardly ever. Eva was willing to believe that she could count the times she had had tea on a single hand. Perhaps it only worked on those who consumed the stuff regularly.
This batch was more like a syringe of adrenaline straight to the heart.
“What are you so worked up about?”
Eva glanced up with a slight start.
“You’re jumpy enough to make me nervous,” Catherine said. “Stop it.”
“He’s the father of my very first non-Arachne friend. I’d rather not have him hate me.” Eva started towards her tea, but stopped.
She’d had enough.
“Besides,” Eva said, “you don’t need to be here anyway. I’m perfectly capable of taking him to see the enigma on my own.”
“I wish I didn’t need to be here. Martina insists that absolutely every visitor to the Academy must be escorted at all times. Especially around the ‘enigma.'” Catherine used a single hand for her air-quotes. Her other hand held a cellphone.
One she had been tapping on incessantly for the last fifteen minutes.
The constant beeps and vibrations made by the thing didn’t help with Eva’s nerves.
“How long is he going to take?” Catherine moaned while she flopped over onto the table after a series of depressing tones. “I have better things to do than to waste away my time in the mortal realm babysitting you. And why isn’t this the job of the security team? What did Martina even hire them for?”
“His letter said noon,” Eva said, glancing up to the clock. She didn’t bother to respond to the rest of Catherine’s complaints. “And it’s high noon.”
As soon as she spoke, there was a soft knock at the door. A moment after, the door cracked open and Carlos walked in.
He looked… well, not as gaunt as he had while Juliana was stuck in Hell. He had been eating better, that much was clear.
However, Eva’s heart sank as he failed to smile in the slightest. No twinkling appeared in his eyes at the sight of her.
At least he isn’t scowling, Eva thought.
Eva kept her disappointment bottled up. Her face remained as neutral as his own.
At least until a second person entered the room. Someone unfamiliar. Taller than Carlos with sun-baked skin and darker hair. There might have been a passing resemblance to Genoa if she looked close enough; he had the same strong bone structure in his cheekbones and jaw line.
His eyes managed to wander half the room before snapping to Eva.
Particularly her hands as they rested on the table around her teacup.
Eva watched his eyes grow wide. They traveled up to her elbows before shooting upwards to meet her gaze.
The entire school knew what Eva looked like. She actually did not have to deal with much in the way of reactions. Not anymore. Half the school had been there to see her directly on the first night, an incident she fled from before anyone had a chance to do anything. The rest of the school had heard rumors–most probably exaggerated to the point where her actual appearance was boring in comparison–and were therefore prepared.
There was bullying after. Not much other than a thrown ball of dirt or water in the hallways. Most people tended to avoid her. And all that had pretty much stopped once the security force started patrolling the hallways.
Genoa had taken her appearance in stride, for the most part. Eva guessed that she had seen far stranger as part of her mage-knight guild. Carlos had been more interested in examining her than anything else.
As such, it was something of a daunting experience, watching as this presumably normal mortal took in her appearance. His eyes, though they started wide, had narrowed into thin slits full of suspicion and wariness.
Eva kept eye contact, her face remaining as impassive as she could make it, daring him to say something. She fully intended to make him blink first.
A third person walking in the door threw that plan to the winds.
Eva jumped to her feet, knocking over her teacup. Ignoring Catherine’s yelp as the hot tea ran down the table towards her, Eva strode across the room.
Only for the unfamiliar man to move in front of her path. He held a green baseball-sized gemstone focus in his hand, outstretched towards Eva.
She didn’t waste any time in readying for combat. Her dagger came out of her sheath at her back while her off-hand ignited in thaumaturgical flames.
“Erich! Stand down.” There was a slight pause. “She’s my friend.”
Those last three words made Eva forget everything that had been worrying her. It didn’t matter if Carlos hated her. It didn’t matter if the man–this Erich–attacked her. She could take him. Probably.
The flames coating her hand expired and her dagger disappeared into its sheath.
After giving her a wary look, Erich’s focus disappeared into a pocket. He took an excruciatingly long time with moving out of the way, but he eventually did.
There was a smile there. Maybe not a careless, gleeful smile, but a smile nonetheless.
Putting on a smile of her own, Eva stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her friend.